Here at the library, we encourage children to play during our story times by providing toys and no noise limits. I model asking them playful questions and turning songs, such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” into opportunities for play by letting them decide the action – i.e. tickling, wiggling, or bouncing our boats. There is a lot of research that shows the importance of play:
The Association of American Pediatrics report, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” says “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.”
Psychology Today (3/6/12) relates clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about two and one half through six or seven years. Cognitive benefits have included increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. Imaginitive play also helps with awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from someone else and that there are a variety of perspectives.
Child Care Quarterly (Winter 2012) recommends working to facilitate children’s play by “. . . using open-ended questions to encourage interaction with teachers and peers. Provide props that help children pretend, imagine, create, explore, discover, and communicate as they play. Model interactions that promote children’s social skills, stimulate their sense of self-worth, and encourage collaboration.”
The article “Play in the Preschool Classroom: Its Socioemotional Significance and the Teacher’s Role in Play” (2007) stated that “. . . sociodramatic play contributes to children’s emotional and social development. . .skills that will serve them in the school setting and other aspects of life.”
What is the short and sweet of it? Let your kids play! Play is “the work of childhood” according to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget – it is as important as learning letters, counting, or learning nursery rhymes.
Some wonderfully playful books to help this process include:
• Press Here by Hervé Tullet
• Don’t Wake Up the Tiger!
By Britta Teckenrup
• We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury
• Go Away Big Green Monster!
By Ed Emberley
Play continues to be important for older kids as well. New research shows that school readiness is a developmental process all the way up to age eight.
Non-fiction stories, like those listed next, are a wonderful way for young people to engage in learning new subjects.
• The Amazing Dinosaur Detectives: Amazing Facts, Myths and Quirks of the Dinosaur World by Maggie Li
• Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist
by Jess Keating
• Over and Under the Pond
by Kate Messner
• Go for Lift-off!: How to Train Like an Astronaut by Dafydd Williams
• Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Picture
by Kwame Alexander
• Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! By Ammi-Joan Paquette & Laurie Ann Thompson